USCL Week 8 Preview/Predictions
Tomorrow is a big night for all the Eastern teams, as the season reaches its climax and the value of every match seems to increase exponentially. The final 3 weeks of divisional play will undoubtedly give rise to exciting finishes as teams race for the coveted playoff spots.
New Jersey starts off the set against Philadelphia. After a disappointing loss last week to league leaders Dallas, Philadephia finds themselves in an extremely precarious position facing elimination with a loss (and practically, with a draw as well). Yet the value of the match is hardly lost on New Jersey, understanding that a win would move us into a solid 2nd place with our eye on the top spot.
|New Jersey Knockouts||Philadelphia Inventors|
|GM Alex Stripunsky: 2651||FM Tom Bartell: 2496|
|NM Alexander Katz: 2362||FM Dov Gorman: 2362|
|NM Christopher Wu: 2288||NM Peter Minear: 2385|
|NM Praveen Balakrishnan: 2240||FM Karl Dehmelt: 2260|
|Average Rating: 2385||Average Rating: 2376|
|New Jersey Total||Philadelphia Total|
The Knockouts trot out GM Alex Stripunsky for the 4th time this season. Having already defeated two grandmasters and drawing another this season, Stripunsky has confirmed his position as one of the best players in the league. Yet despite the White pieces and an apparently big rating edge, the matchup is far from easy as he finds IM-elect Tom Bartell across the board. Despite being apparently not particularly threatening on board 1, Bartell has multiple GM scalps this year including a GOTW victory over GM Anka and a big upset last week over GM Conrad Holt, one of the more familiar names in recent American chess. Despite all this, Stripunsky is known to draw blood from a stone that's been sitting around in the desert for hundreds of years, and will collect the full point here.
The next board sees a rather unusual matchup. In this league it has become the norm for the second board to play host to a titled player duel, often among GMs. Yet Philadelphia has no such players on their roster (besides Yaacov Norowitz who has not yet played), and New Jersey has opted for a more balanced lineup rather than our typical GM duo. This is undoubtedly in response to our struggles on the lower boards, yet naturally means that we forfeit our advantages on the higher ones. I play a very familiar opponent in Dov Gorman, who I have a quite poor record against as of late. It certainly doesn't help that I'm way off form recently and have strugged even against extremely lower rated players, while Gorman has had a quite solid if unspectacular season against high-level opposition on the second board. Expect Gorman to play a rather unambitious opening with the White pieces, yet as is typical build up his position with simple logical moves and I suffer a bit for the draw.
Taking my usual place on the third board is Christopher Wu. After a disappointing loss two weeks ago against Andrew Liu, Chris gets the white pieces for the first time this season. His opponent is Peter Minear, who has had a difficult season thus far despite his near-2400 rating. I quite like this matchup for us, but Minear is a perenially dangerous player and is clearly not to be underestimated. Despite this I think Chris will get a nice attacking position out of the opening, which will play to his strengths, and collect the full point.
Finally Praveen Balakrishnan returns for only his second match of the season. Interestingly, his first was a loss to the very same opponent in Karl Dehmelt! This time the colors are reversed, and I suspect Praveen will be quite happy not being particularly ambitious and simply playing it pretty safe. Depending on Praveen's goal here this game might be a very exciting rematch or a fairly dull draw - either way I feel confident that he won't have a whole lot of trouble despite being Black and will fairly easily collect the half point.
This gives NJ a key 3-1 match win, eliminating Philadelphia from all but spoiler role in the process. A disappointment for Philadelphia, but with a weakened lineup this year and the top player not even playing the matches, it's difficult to realistically expect a playoff berth against such a high-level division in New York, Manhattan, and ourselves. Yet despite the 3-1 prediction, this is a match that could easily go both ways, particularly with Philadelphia fighting to remain in the ring. Whatever the outcome, this should be a very exciting match.
|Manhattan Applesauce||New York Knights|
|GM Zviad Izoria: 2624||.5||.5||GM Tamaz Gelashvili: 2699|
|IM Farai Mandizha: 2453||0||1||GM Pascal Charbonneau: 2552|
|FM Rico Salimbagat: 2259||.5||.5||NM Alex King: 2297|
|NM Ryan Goldenberg: 2348||1||0||NM Nicolas Checa: 2267|
|Average Rating: 2421||Average Rating: 2454|
|Manhattan Total||2||2||New York Total|
The other two teams in our division go at it in a fight for first place. Izoria has been incredible this year, defeating both Akobian AND Hess - both with the black pieces! With a 4/5 score against 3 GMs and 2 IMs, two of whom are among the top players in the country, it is hardly unreasonable for Izoria to claim being the board 1 MVP at this stage. Tamaz Gelashvili on the other hand has played only 2 matches this season, but they have been 2 very important wins. His first earned the GOTW honors in a demolition of IM Marc Esserman's setup, while the second was a victory over GM Julio Becerra, one of the faces of the USCL. Two titans are going at it and so a draw ensues. The second board has GM Pascal Charbonneau taking white against IM Farai Mandizha, who is coming off a big victory over defending MVP IM Kannappan. Despite this Pascal does his usual "just get a reasonable position and play chess" thing and does exactly that for the whole point. Alex King resumes his board 3 duties, playing black against Rico Salimbagat. I'm not really sure what's going on in this matchup, but for whatever reason I think King gets the better side of a draw. Finally Ryan Goldenberg has been a beast thus far, one of the few board 3/4 players to make a serious MVP run. This week he makes another big stride towards catching the otherwise occupied Jeffery Xiong, with a big match-saving win against Nicolas Checa.
And so the subway series remains split, setting up a huge showdown next week as NY will have just a game point edge over NJ as they face off for control of the division.
|Connecticut Dreadnoughts||Boston Blitz|
|GM Robert Hess: 2636||1||0||IM Marc Esserman: 2569|
|GM Michael Rohde: 2548||.5||.5||SM Denys Shmelov: 2465|
|IM Jay Bonin: 2436||1||0||NM Vadim Martirosov: 2349|
|Zachary Tanenbaum: 2143||0||1||NM Ilya Krasik: 2286|
|Average Rating: 2441||Average Rating: 2417|
|Connecticut Total||2.5||1.5||Boston Total|
In the "other" division, which admittedly I haven't thought too hard about as it doesn't directly impact us, New England has essentially clinched a playoff berth and officially does so here as Boston falls to Connecticut. GM Robert Hess has had a tough year, undoubtedly influenced by the college workload, but still has the white pieces against a similarly struggling IM Marc Esserman. Being the stronger player and having the white pieces I have to give him the nod in this matchup. The second board sees Shmelov take white against GM Rohde. Shmelov is known for being a quite solid player and I don't see much happening in this game. IM Jay Bonin, playing for his third team (previously NY and then Philadelphia) is much much stronger with than white pieces than the black ones, and this time capitalizes on his rating edge to reach a position with a slight but stable edge which he grinds to victory. Finally Ilya Krasik has had difficulty putting away the full point this year in very winning positions, but this time will manage to do so albeit all for naught as Boston is left with only mathematical chances at making the playoffs.
|New England Nor'easters||Baltimore Kingfishers|
|GM Sam Shankland: 2673||1||0||IM Levan Bregadze: 2469|
|FM Steven Winer: 2409||.5||.5||IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat: 2492|
|NM Mika Brattain: 2364||1||0||NM Jared Defibaugh: 2297|
|NM Andrew Liu: 2296||.5||.5||FM Ralph Zimmer: 2244|
|Average Rating: 2436||Average Rating: 2376|
|New England Total||3||1||Baltimore Total|
There's something to be said for playing better when facing elimination, but frankly I don't think it's going to be said on Tuesday night. The top board sees GM Sam Shankland playing over 200 points down against IM Levan Bregadze - despite the latter player being underrated it's hard to see another outcome besides the full point. IM Enkhbat looks to strike back against the no-longer-rusty Winer, but cannot do so as the game peters down to a draw. Mika Brattain has had a solid year thus far, and utilizes the white pieces to good effect against an unpredictable Jared Defibaugh. Finally FM Ralph Zimmer can't do much with the better color against the slightly stronger opponent, and NE caps off their great season by effectively clinching the division and pretty much settling the Northeast division's playoff picture early.
As usual, the matches occur on Tuesday and Wednesday nights on chess.com's very own server. Don't miss out - in just 6 short weeks or so the league will be gone until next August! Thanks as usual to our sponsors chess.com and PokerStars, and don't forget to watch the live coverage at chess.com/tv during the matches.